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New Website!

November 7, 2011

Check out my new website….

This will be my main hub of updates and ideas


New academic abode, aka I joined a lab…

August 29, 2011

So my big news is that I am now officially a part of Dr. Sabrina Russo’s lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This will be my academic abode for the next few years.  Tantalizing opportunities on the horizon include research on tropical islands with unusually high levels of biodiversity and working with plants that have specialized adaptations to specific soil types.  Stay posted for interesting news from the prairie-jungle…

Borneo Map

Home away from home?

New paper on life in the forest canopy!

August 24, 2011

Sampling forest canopy arthropod biodiversity with three novel minimal-cost trap designs

Bar-Ness, Y. D., McQuillan, P. B., Whitman, M., Junker, R. R., Cracknell, M. and Barrows, A. (2011), Sampling forest canopy arthropod biodiversity with three novel minimal-cost trap designs. Australian Journal of Entomology. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-6055.2011.00836.x

Sampling arthropods in the upper canopy of tall trees presents a range of challenges associated with portability, cost, placement, replication and collection. Detailed schematics and instructions are presented here for three trap designs: sticky CD cases, plastic bottle hanging flight-intercept traps and drink bottleneck funnel crawl traps. By using simple and salvageable materials such as plastic drink bottles and compact disc cases, the financial cost of an arthropod sampling regime in the crowns of old-growth Tasmanian stringybark trees Eucalyptus obliqua (L’Herit) was kept to a minimum. The traps collected comparatively diverse communities: the sticky traps catching high levels of Diptera, Hymenoptera and Coleoptera; the funnel traps catching Diptera, Hemiptera and Coleoptera; and the hanging traps catching Diptera, Coleoptera and Lepidoptera. The sticky traps were ranked best, and the funnels worst, when integrating relative merits of cost, transport, durability, construction, placement, retrieval, sorting and arthropod condition.

Check out the full paper here:

New paper on Madagascar orchids!

August 15, 2011

New publication in Lankesteriana!

Conservation of Madagascar’s granite outcrop orchids: the influence of fire and moisture.

Whitman, M., M. Medler, J.J. Randriamanindry, & E. Rabakonadrianina. 2011. Conservation of Madagascar’s granite outcrop orchids: the influence of fire and moisture. Lankesteriana International Journal on Orchidology 11(1): 55-67.

Is there a difference in response to disturbance, or resource limitation, by similar taxa based on micro-site habitat heterogeneity? For this study we examined how fire and moisture availability influences the distribution of terrestrial and lithophytic orchids specific to Madagascar’s granite outcrops (inselbergs). We compared orchid density in an area with a complex mosaic of burned and non-burned vegetation patches (three years after the event). Lithophytic species (subtribe Angraecinae) were sensitive to fire, but tolerant of limited moisture availability, and had a uniform distribution pattern associated with vegetation mat size. In contrast,most terrestrial species (subtribe Habenariinae) were not impacted by fire, but were limited to slopes with high water seepage, and had a clumped distribution pattern. The results suggest varying ecological niches between orchid subtribes, and among species, occurring on shared substrate. Within the larger area, we also compared three inselbergs with different fire disturbance history. One site with potential for lightning based fires, but absence of anthropogenic fires, had the greatest diversity (subtribes, genera, and species) of orchids and the highest occurrence of species restricted to a single site. For land management purposes it is inappropriate to assume that inselberg specific orchids will have the same response to environmental stressors. Angraecinae orchids are especially at risk from human associated fire disturbance and should be regarded as indicators for future conservation efforts.

To get a copy of the .pdf click below!

Whitman et al 2011

Also check out the Lankesteriana website at


July 6, 2009

Melissa Whitman

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Research Interests: I am interested in understanding patterns of species distribution within tropical forests

Locations of Research:

  • Masoala and Mt. Angavokely, Madagascar
  • Luquillo LTER, Puerto Rico
  • Warra LTER, Tasmania Chesapeake Bay, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center Maryland (SERC)
  • Native forests of Hilo, Hawai’i
  • Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest, Washington.

Education and Training:

  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln – Graduate student in the lab of Dr. Sabrina Russo. 2011
  • Western Washington University/Evergreen State College – Graduate level courses in conservation biology, ecological statistics, and remote sensing. 2008
  • Cyberinfrastructure for International Collaborative Biodiversity and Ecological Informatics training Costa Rica, funded by the NSF. 2008
  • Western Washington University – Interdisciplinary B.A., emphasis on science and art. 2006
  • Additional education –University of Puerto Rico, University of Hawaii, University of Tasmania (Australia), University of Antananarivo (Madagascar), and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

Scientific Research

Land use history, habitat, and the distribution of the terrestrial orchid Prescottia stachyodes in the Caribbean National Forest, Puerto Rico.

Included scientific writing, field surveying, statistical analysis, and mapping of orchid distribution. Whitman and Ackerman. University of Puerto Rico, Research Experience for Undergraduates Program. September to June 2005. Manuscript in process.

Impact of fire on endemic Inselberg (granite outcrop) orchids of Mt. Angavokely, Madagascar.

Lead role in project development, methods, field surveying, and analysis. Whitman, Medler, Randriamanindry, Rabakonandrianina. University of Antananarivo, Madagascar. Sept. 2003 to June 2004. Published in Lankesteriana 11(1) in 2011.

Arthropod biodiversity in the canopy of Eucalyptus obliqua. Research Assistant. Project included canopy mapping, arborist treeclimbing, and biodiversity assessment.    University of Tasmania, Australia. 2004    Published in Australian Journal of Entomology in 2011.

Work Experience

Climate Impacts Group, Pacific Northwest USDA Forest Service Research Lab and Tetra Tech – Cartographer.

Creation of extensive collection of maps to illustrate impact of climate change across various time periods and spatial scales. Maps posted to ecoshare. 2011.

Oregon State University, Institute for Natural Resources and the Oregon Biodiversity Information CenterGIS Technician.

Part of GIS intensive team for the Integrate Landscape Assessment Project (ILAP). Position tasks included geospatial and database integration of forest management plans across public agencies in the states of Washington and Oregon; mapping; and compilation of datasets for ecological modeling purposes. Funded by ARRA. Dec 2009 – Dec 2010.

Washington State Department of Natural Resources Spatial Analyst.

Identification of priority stewardship areas for twenty-two endangered or threatened species. Responsible for GIS based spatial analysis, cartography, database management, and documentation of methods. Dec 2006 – September 2008

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center – Ecological Modeling Intern.

Analysis of the relationship between freshwater insect diversity and landscape characterisitcs for sustainable water management practices. Duties included creation and analysis of maps using shape files, rasters, and remote sensing imagery (Landsat and LIDAR.) Tasks also included ecological modeling, parametric and non-parametric statistical analysis, extensive data management. June – September 2006.

Grant Committees

  • Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (Section 6) for Grant Committee for Land Acquisition. Review and ranking of grant proposals to be passed onto the Federal Section 6 Grant Committee. 2007
  • Fairhaven College Adventure Learning Grant Committee. Review of grant proposals and interviewing of applicants. 2005

Honors and Awards

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. 2010.
  • First Place Award of Excellence in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for my scientific poster at the Sigma Xi Scientific Honors Society National Student Conference. 2005.
  • Third place award at the 18th World Orchid Conference. 2005.
  • Featured in the annual President’s Report for WWU. 2005.
  • Nominated for Scholarsweek presentation, WWU. 2005.
  • Acknowledge during a presentation at the XXII International Congress of Entomology for my volunteer work with canopy arthropod biodiversity. Brisbane, Australia. 2004.
  • Adventure Learning Grant Recipient, Fairhaven College, WWU. 2003
  • Northwest Orchid Society Research Grant. 2003
  • Milotte Scholarship award for two consecutive years. Based on academic merit. 2001, 2002

Field Research Skills

  • Species Identification – Use of dichotomous key for plant and insect identification.
  • Habitat Assessment/Surveying – Use of GPS, compass, maps, densiometer, for species inventorying and categorization of habitat characteristics.

Computer Skills

  • Database Management – Organization and management of data related to species distribution and habitat for use in a variety of analysis programs
  • Spatial Analysis – ArcGIS 9.3 (ArcMap, ArcScene, ArcCatalog and extensions), ERDAS.
  • Statistical Analysis – R, SPSS, SAS, Statistix, JMP.